About The Artist
As sometimes is the case, we find that perhaps a name can be associated with more than one person in country music's history. This time, it's Norma Lee, a native of Olympia, Washington, who recorded "Paper Boy" and "You Belong To Me" in the late 1950s. We had the pleasure of hearing from Norma herself, so with her help, we can provide you with a bit of information about her career.
Norma Lee was born in Port Angeles, Washington in 1940. But she was raised in Olympia, Washington and graduated from Olympia High School in 1958.
When she was about 13 years old, she (known as Norma Palm at the time) was paired with Linda Robinson and they were known as the Harmony Sweethearts. At that time, Norma and Linda were plaing at the Fort Lewis Army Base with then PFC Ray "red" Hilbreth, Bobby Carl and "The Rhymthm Riders" providing entertainment for the GI's based there. It was noted that the gals had written several tunes back then, but no mention of the song titles.
The girls later had their own television show over KTVW-TV out of Tacoma, Washington called "Harmony Sweetheart Time". A 1957 article mentions the show aired at 6:45pm.
During their time in Washington, the Harmony Sweethearts worked with many of the Grand Ole Opry stars when their road tours took them west including Roy Acuff, George Morgan, Ernest Tubb and Little Jimmy Dickens. A 1954 article, written when the gals were just 13 points out that they had shared the stage with other stars such as Slim Whitman, Hank Snow, T. Texas Tyler, Tex Ritter, The Anderews Sysisters, Ann Jones, Ray Anthony and Slim Willet.
Besides singing as the 1957 article describes as "...well worked out duets", the girls could also play piano, accordion (the 1954 article notes that Norma was the one playing accordion) and guitar.
The girls were quite popular and getting attention. They were on the Lawrence Welk show in 1958 when he spotlighted the Top Tunes and new talent of the day.
The recordings we mentioned were done for the Film record label in 1960. She tells us that the lead guitar player on both sides of that recording was James Burton, who was a part of the legendary Ricky Nelson's band. Norma said it was a thrill to have him backing her on those recordings. She also said it only took her one or two 'takes' to get the recordings down. The studio musicians were duly impressed by her talents back then.
Later, she became a part of the classic "Town Hall Party" show that was in a sense California's version of the WSM Grand Ole Opry.
The Haromny Sweethearts found themselves on "Town Hall Party" a bit from the efforts of Norma's father who kept pushing them and had them working at many fairs and other venues in southern California. They were heard by the right person at that time and got a contract to be on Town Hall Party. During that stint, the girls worked with many stars of the day including Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, the Collins Kids. Gene Autry would even stop by.
The Harmony Sweethearts were just about to sign with Decca Records, which happened to be Gene Autry's label at the time. But Norma's partner, Linda, decided she did not want to stay in the music business. For Norma, it was a pretty tramatic time, but she decided to forge on as a solo artist.
She notes that she plays several instruments such as guitar and piano. And plays them all by 'ear' - everything just came natural to her she says.
She began her career at a very young age. When she had turned 21, she had worked with many of the famous artists of that era. For a time, she was the lead female singer at the famed Palomino Club on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, California. Norma remembers that Glen Campbell would come by and sit in with their band and just play guitar, perhaps honing his talents for the day he would finally become his own star.
When she was about 22 or 23 years old, she got noticed by Cliffie Stone while working at a piano bar in Oxnard, California. Cliffie and the producer asked her to come down to Los Angeles - they wanted to sign her to the label. She did not hesitate and ended up recording about four sides for Capitol around 1966 or 1967.
The first tune she recorded was a Faron Young tune called "If That's The Fashion". She doesn't know if her version came out before Faron's. It got decent airplay by a local Washington Disc Jockey known as Shotgun Red. But Capitol didn't seem to put the promotional effort into it.
It was around this time that Patsy Cline had met a tragic death and the industry was trying to find the next "Patsy Cline" and as Norma notes, she was not.
She also recorded "Cheated" and "One Lonely Heart Makes A Crowd" for the label.
Over the years Norma notes she has worked at many piano bars in California before she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. She entertained audiences in the main showroom of The Landmark hotel and other venues in the city that never sleeps.
We mention she had worked with other stars and legends of country music. Johnny Cash was one of them. She went on tour for a time with Little Jimmie Dickens. She was a part of the opening act for a Ray Charles concert in Oxnard, California. She shared the stage with Buck Owens in Tacoma, Washington.
Norma also recorded two songs she wrote, "Daydreaming" and "Under a Teenage Moon" for the Lagree record label. She writes that it was located at 1216 West Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, California at the time. She can't quite recall if that recording was before "Paper Boy" or after. It appears that "Paper Boy" was released in the latter half of 1959. But they were recorded pretty close together, both before she turned 21.
Norma recalls that recording vividly. She had a 21 peice orchestra on those two, which she says was really something. She was standing behind a small wall with earphones and through a small glass, she was seeing a 21-piece orchestra in this huge studio.
Norma's career took her full circle back to Olympia, Washington. After her return to her home late in her career, she formed a three piece group that was known simply as the "Norma Lee Band". She was popular in the Olympia area and she notes she appeared at just about every night club in the Olympia and Tacoma metropolitan area.
She kept up that musical career for over 30 years and still managed to find time to raise three sons. She quit performing professionally in the early 1990s.
In summing up her career a bit, she notes:
"...(I) wouldn't trade my many years in the music business for nothing. The main reason I didn't really pursue my musical career harder, is, my three sons came first. Now I'm a Grandma and about to be a great Grandma and love every minute of it."
Credits & Sources
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